It’s September already! The blur of summer has already passed, which may be a relief if you live in Calgary, AB, like I do, where summer was just a string of thunderstorms. The leaves are starting to change colours which always makes me want to begin change in my own life. The transformation of the natural landscape spurs me to transform too….and not just physically. I find myself reflecting on all of the ways my life could be different and I start to prioritize.
This year my kids are both in full-time school. My daughter began Grade 3 and my son Grade 1 on Tuesday. I tearfully sent them off, all too aware of how big they are getting….a proud but sad feeling for sure. It also made my husband and I realize how fast time is flowing by! It woke us up to the fact that our five-year plan deadline has come and gone, without us really reaching any of those goals. Although this sounds like a horrible realization, it was a necessary wake-up call. We are still young and realize we must change our lives drastically before another five years has passed and we find ourselves at the exact same spot in life.
We have to begin budgeting more tightly. We are not alone in this. The Alberta economy has taken a severe downturn and a lot of people here are struggling. Many of the parents I know have also been forced to budget more stringently or have dipped in to their savings. Although we are doing okay, in comparison, it made us think of possible rainy days ahead and what we have in savings. The answer is, not enough. Even if we keep the status quo, so to speak, my husband and I realized that we’ve been getting by without getting ahead. My daughter was in swimming lessons at the time, so I kept referring to this as “treading water financially”.
So, with the goal in mind of having savings, paying down our debt more efficiently, and owning a house in a few years, we made some guidelines:
1. Strict Spending Budget.
I am old school. Yes, I am aware that you can easily make a spreadsheet on your computer and you are saving money, time and trees. However, I live in the past with some things and planning is one of them. For any kind of planning I am more comfortable with a pen and paper in front of me. I found a lot of free printables online, but when I saw this Budget planner, in Michaels craft stores, I fell in love with its layout. It’s cute as hell too, which makes financial planning less scary for me. I never really learned how to budget properly as a kid. Instead, I learned that if you put off certain bills, they won’t come after you aggressively for a few months. I did not learn how terribly that affects your credit score or your future paycheques…..yah, my family didn’t teach me a lot about money. Instead, I’ve grown up a little afraid of financial planning and money. So, now that I have my own kids, I want to be more responsible and comfortable with money. I want to be a good role model….and be able to save money for them too.
The plan is to faithfully write down all expenses and plan better for the next month….you know, like an adult should (and I am realizing I don’t). Every impulse purchase, every grocery bill, every gas fill-up and all the rest will go in to this notebook and we will tweak spending until we are saving more and shopping less. It is extremely hard to do in this “see this online and quickly charge it” society. (Charging it doesn’t even feel like you are spending real money!) Every impulse purchase is a quick search and click away on the internet. I am super guilty of the “those earrings are only $10 plus $3 shipping” online shopping trap. I rarely think of how many times I do that or if I will wear those earrings enough to make it worth it. More is more, isn’t it?
Once we have one month of spending recorded, it is time to figure out where the money goes and where we WANT it to go. I plan to budget everything from our main bills to our coffee breaks. No more mindless spending! It’s as dangerous as mindless eating. Perversely, this will give us MORE freedom in our spending. We often think, “We can afford that outing, can’t we?” and do it, without much long-long-long-term thinking. Yah, we are doing okay and getting by, but we also aren’t putting extra away. So now, we will have an “x” amount of dollars to spend on outings and coffees and, if we can afford it, we say yes, and if we can’t, we say we will join in next time. No more will we spend while our mind secretly gnaws on worry and anxiety that the spending will bite us later.
2. Holidays and Special Occasions.
Yes. Holidays are important. They allow us to hit the reset button and prevent burnout. We can run ourselves ragged if we don’t take a break from our endless cycle of work and chores. However, do we really need it to be someplace tropical or far away? Must we stay for a week in a five-star resort we can barely afford to feel recharged? If we do it because we are “keeping up with the Jones-es”, we may come home to bills that cause more financial stress than it was worth. What about driving to family or friends that we haven’t seen in awhile and making that human connection? What about a one night stay in a hotel a few hours away to see a provincial landmark? What about a day of hiking?
We have decided that we can only afford one or two vacations a year, and we are including visiting family for Christmas as one of the vacations. Even if we stay with family, that trip costs us time off, gas, food out to socialize, and activities. We are cutting back for 2-4 years and reevaluating. It will be hard, but we are willing to limit travel to make some progress.
Another thing that costs a lot is special occasions. We have spoiled the kids at Christmas and on birthdays in the past, but in six months they feel like their rooms are cluttered and we just end up donating half of it anyway. Josh and I spoil each other and friends and family too. I swear society teaches us that spending money on someone is the only sure way to show you love them….see any jewelry store ads lately? My point exactly. They target your worth as a partner through how much you spend. Ridiculous. So Josh and I made a plan. No anniversary gifts over $50, if at all, and no Christmas presents for each other. No gifts for each other period, basically. We will still give stocking presents to each other, but we will have a tight budget….we are thinking the whole stocking has to cost $25 or less. The kids will get a Santa present and one or two presents (maximum) from us. Ideally, they get a Santa present, one gift each and a gift to share (like a board-game) from us. Right now, Isabella is thinking she wants a Santa present and all the rest of her gifts to be a donation to Raising the Roof…I hope she sticks with that. Family gifts will be budgeted to a certain dollar amount and gifts for friend’s kids will likely be small or hand-made. I think that saves us at least $200-300 every year already. Or more. I think I spent $100 last year on Josh’s stocking alone….I get so excited and it adds up so darn quickly!
Festivals like ComicCon we also consider a special occasion and are considering cutting out such costly events for a couple of years, with a few exceptions. I don’t want my kids to have zero memories of fun festival experiences, but limiting them is okay with me.
3. Less is More
Thank goodness decluttering is having a moment. I think our “More is More” consumerist culture has reached a breaking point. The rise in popularity of getting rid of stuff and living in a minimalist environment makes it more socially acceptable to say you are buying less and getting rid of more.
I remember one time not being able to find Hunter’s favourite colouring book in our GIANT PILE of colouring books, so running to the store to get him another one, because it is “only a couple bucks”. I think it cost $4 in the end, and he scribbled in the pages for 4 hours before never colouring in it again. Oh, it was a good four hours for this stressed-out mom that just needed her 2 year old occupied for a spell so I could get some laundry done. But now, I kind of remember that moment with a look of horror on my face. Not only is that horrible to the environment- I seriously had 10 trees worth of colouring books he could have picked from already- it was very wasteful financially. I don’t want to think, “I can’t afford this but…” ever again. I want to be smarter than that. Josh will laugh when he reads this, since my idea of a splurge is a $3 nail polish every 6 months, but every bit helps. Often, I justify the spending and don’t get to see that money saved instead.
Another good way to save, we have discovered, is buying kid’s clothes in thrift stores. (NOT vintage stores. In my experience, once you see “vintage” it will be more expensive than anything labeled “thrift”). Find a thrift store that is a bit more discerning in its donation choices (a good thrift store will never accept stained or torn clothing) or supports a charity you believe in. Make sure you check for well-sewn seams and buttons before you buy, but, after that, go for it. You will save tons and it is way easier on the environment than buying online or new. The only thing I try to buy new is the kid’s gym or indoor shoes, as every foot wears in shoes differently and I need to protect their tiny knees and ankles. But shirts, pants and jackets are almost always hand-me-downs or thrift store finds. I am passionate about how much impact this has on the environment as well, since new clothing doesn’t have to be manufactured, but that is a whole other blog post. It also does have a huge impact on your pocket book, so we are going to continue to buy second hand when we can to help out our finances.
I am hoping my kids see me budgeting and hear us talk about money in a responsible way, and grow up with a healthy respect for it, without fear and with a mature sense of how to manage it.
What will we do for fun instead?
There are so many cheap ways to have fun as a family that we will be doing more of lately! We are excited to:
- have fall picnics
- play board-games together
- go for walks
- craft with the craft supplies we already own
- have movie and popcorn days in our living room while wearing our onesies (yes, all 4 of us have one)
- tea parties
- write penpal letters
- play Lego
- Finish the video games we started (Josh is currently helping Hunter play Zelda and I am helping Izzy finish Child of Light)
- play catch
- walk around downtown and point out all the sculptures and old buildings
- play at the library and visit new ones
- play old school games like Jacks and TicTacToe
- host dinner parties
- visit city parks together
So many possibilities! We are excited to save and have fun at the same time.
What has worked for you in the past? Are you feeling the same way that we do about money this year?